Isabelle Faust & Alexander Melnikov Play Works by Brahms, Schumann and Dietrich

Works for violin and piano by Dietrich, Schumann and Brahms.

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COMPOSERS: Brahms,Dietrich,Schumann
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Brahms
WORKS: Violin Sonatas Nos 2 & 3
PERFORMER: Brahms: Violin Sonatas Nos 2 & 3; Schumann: Three Romances; Dietrich-Schumann-Brahms: FAE Sonata
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 902219

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Agility, a light touch, emotional fragility and elusive intensity – these may not be qualities one normally associates with Brahms. But these performances of the Second and Third Violin Sonatas by Isabelle Faust and Alexander Melnikov are so persuasive in precisely those terms they make one wonder if we aren’t seeing this alleged ‘Classical-Romantic’ through the wrong end of the telescope: ie that it’s the ‘Romantic’ part that really matters. Put him alongside his mentor Schumann, as on this intriguingly compiled, sensitively recorded disc, and the relationship between them seems touchingly intimate.

Brahms is very much his own man (unlike Albert Dietrich, whose contribution to the collectively-composed ‘FAE’ Sonata is more in Schumann’s shadow), yet his path now seems far less solidly assured, his moods more shadowy, nervous, even labile. The elegance of Brahms’s craft is still apparent, especially his ability to create long singing melodic lines of great sweep and complexity, yet I was surprised at how much I was emotionally drawn into the Third Sonata, while the second lost all hint of structural awkwardness. The fusion of ardent song and scherzo in the latter’s second movement even comes close to the ‘lateral’ brilliance of Schumann at his quirky best.

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It’s not that Faust and Melnikov can’t be forceful or imposing in Brahms, but that’s not ultimately the impression one takes away. Even the turbulent finale of the Third Sonata has a vulnerable, confessional quality, which is, after all, much better suited to the character of the other three movements. Lovers of big tone and the grand oratorical manner in Brahms may be disappointed; I was captivated. Stephen Johnson